Archive for the ‘Editors’ Dispatches’ Category

Reading Our Readers

Monday, October 12th, 2015

lightbulbsIt’s Celebrate Our Readers day. Not the readers of our journal (though we are ever so grateful for you), but the diligent and conscientious behind-the-scenes readers of the six thousand plus (and rising!) submissions we receive each year. These intelligent and dedicated humans, who are just as busy as you are and receive no payment for their pains, spend hours every week rendering thoughtful assessments of the random poems and stories, by writers both new and seasoned, that continuously fill their inboxes. Below are a few examples of our readers’ reactions to the work you send our way.

Good poems, but not very inventive or new—except for the last one, which I think does something sort of fresh by reversing the typical depictions of boys/girls and children’s perceptions of gender—but then undercuts itself in the final line. Would like to hear another poet’s thoughts.


I feel like this one is on the cusp? The reveal feels kind of like a trick, and there are many disturbing unanswered questions, specifically about character motivation, but it’s beautifully written and interesting and haunting.


Well written estranged father-and-son story. Not horribly interesting, though.


From this batch, I recommend “O——” for further consideration. The poem deviates and subverts the ekphrastic tradition throughout. At the beginning, it does this via nuance, but by the end the poem has taken the narrative (and the reader!) to a whole other immediate place. It is this immediacy at the end that is most compelling to me, especially in an ekphrastic poem, most of which tend to dwell in the past tense of description.


This is not really a literary poem, though it does occasionally exhibit startling word choices. A bit like Jim Morrison, if Jim Morrison were a tanned teen girl in a bathing suit crushing on her boyfriend.


Wow, this story hooked me. The author’s use of indirection is superb, and I love the how insistent and forceful the protagonist is when it comes to protecting/maintaining the dignity of symbols (snakes and fish). The dialogue is convincing, the pacing well controlled. Guess what I don’t like? The ending. I sense the writer couldn’t find a way out of the story so concocted a deeply symbolic and ambiguous gesture.


Well written, but I find the frame this story uses much less original and interesting than its focus. I don’t know the narrator enough to really feel affected by his lost son. The whole conceit feels contrived in order to give weight to the frame.


There are nice observations and images concerning things like lawn mowing and drug stores, but the poet doesn’t do much new or interesting with these images. Adjectives over insight.


Story is over 10K words, contains “Track Changes” corrections, and features laborious stretches of description (mountain wilderness and dogs). The piece exhibits no sense of pacing, though there are fleeting moments of mystery / tension.


I pass this batch on because I enjoy many of the images and a lot of the wordplay in the first three poems. I’m on the fence overall, but when I’m on the fence with poetry, I figure it’s best to let another set of eyes see it.


These are worth further consideration. “S——” introduces a conceit and doesn’t over-indulge in it, rather it stays focused on the emotional resonance of the ending. “O——” made me think of Pablo Neruda’s odes to everyday objects, but with a modern sensibility.

Schiff Awards Finalists and Honorable Mentions

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

featWithout further ado!


Michele Herman
Kate McQuade

Honorable Mentions

Michael Alessi, Steve Amick, David Armstrong, Chris Arp, Sarah Batkie, James Bennett, J. Bowers, Mason Boyles, Elizabeth Denton, Darrin Doyle, Andrea Eberly, Emily Franklin, Scott Gloden, Becky Hagenston, Carissa Halston, Simon Han, Rob Hicks, Mark Hitz, Mark Holden, Christian Holt, David Joseph, Bradford Kammin, Rachel Kondo, Kevin Mandel, Terrance Manning Jr., LaTanya McQueen, Sarah Menkedick, Billy Middleton, Christina Milletti, Christopher Mohar, Derek Palacio, Michael Pearce, Karenmary Penn, Todd James Pierce, Maegan Poland, Lara Prescott, Hannah Timmins Reid, Katie Rogin, Anna Rowser, Chad Schuster, Sarah Taggart, J. Duncan Wiley, Hannah Withers, and Rolf Yngve

Schiff Awards Follow-Up!

Monday, October 5th, 2015
Thanks to everyone who entered our seventh annual summer contest. You sent us essays: There was that beautiful meditation on the altered state of motherhood, for example, as well as that investigative, yearning search for a family past erased by slavery. You sent us pitch-perfect comic stories: We got one featuring a computer coder with a suicidal grandma and a girlfriend obsessed with an Amish reality show. (You thought you had problems!) You sent us sharp and lyrical realist stories: We received several heartbreaking and disorienting tales about what it’s like to live with dementia. You sent us imaginative fabulism and odd magical realism: We got many stories that explored gender, including one in which a woman wakes up with a man’s (ahem) hardware. And you sent poems. One of you imagined the sex life of zombies. One of you imagined the sex life of Gollum. Several of you reimagined that original sex scandal in the mythical garden of yore.  You sent us secrets and heartbreaks, childhoods and dreamscapes. You sent lists and villanelles and rondeaux, and a record-breaking number of prose poems. You sent us (vicariously) to the boulevards of Paris, the villas of Italy, the research labs of Antarctica, and the backyards of post-apocalyptic America. We had an embarrassment of riches, and we’re embarrassed we could only pick one winner.

Don Bogen on the winning poem: Jaime Brunton’s “Chase” is the first prose poem to win the Schiff Award and a great example of the genre at its best. Here are some things I especially admire about it.  First, it’s definitely a poem. Neither narrative-driven nor expository, “Chase” can’t be mistaken for flash fiction or a paragraph in an essay. It uses sentences the way a good poem in free verse uses the line: with grace, variety, and special attention to sound. “Chase” revitalizes phrasing, so that the most impersonal, empty constructions—“There is,” “There are”—come to support subtle emotional exploration. What the poem has to say about time, loss, and our hopes for a clear arc in the lives of those we love is marked by discovery and insight. “Chase” is sharp, sensitive, and brilliantly rendered, a standout among prose poems and poems in general.

Michael Griffith on the winning story: Robert Long Foreman’s “Awe” features a documentarian who, adrift after a project gone tragically wrong, has quit his profession and is seeking . . .  well, is seeking renewed access to the sublime, to awe. His bizarre stratagem is to arrange through Craigslist to watch a woman give birth. In Foreman’s nimble hands, Bill’s alternately comic and poignant (mis)adventures with the couple who agree to allow this make for a delightfully askew, surprisingly emotional story.

Check the blog tomorrow for our distinguished list of HONORABLE MENTIONS. (Sorry, meant to announce them today, but there have been logistical . . . complications, and we don’t want to leave anyone out!)


Winners of the 7th Annual Schiff Awards!

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

WordOfArt1aOur sincere thanks to those who submitted work to The Cincinnati Review’s summer contest. This year’s field was wildly varied in form and content, and it was difficult to choose from among the many quality entries. In addition to the winning pieces, we have a distinguished list of finalists and honorable mentions, as well as the editors’ comments on the entries and the prize poem and story. Please visit our blog on Monday for more contest content.

Those who participated in the contest will receive a year’s subscription to The Cincinnati Review, beginning with our winter issue, due out in early December, and also including the spring/summer prize issue.

Without further ado, the winners of the seventh annual Robert and Adele Schiff Awards are:

Jaime Brunton for her poem “Chase”


Robert Long Foreman for his story “Awe”


Don Bogen on C. K. Williams

Thursday, September 24th, 2015
Don Bogen (left); C. K. Williams (right)

Don Bogen (left); C. K. Williams (right)

Though I’d read and taught C. K. Williams’s poetry and even reviewed it for The Nation a long time ago, I never really got to know him until his visits as George Elliston Poet in Residence in the winter of 2014. His reading and talks were wonderful (and can be heard at the Elliston Project website:, but what I remember most about his time here are things that go beyond the literary: his engagement with people, his insight, and especially his enthusiasm. Air travel can be exhausting, but he seemed to bring energy with him from the moment he stepped off the plane. Even the traffic jam that socked us in on his last trip back to the airport didn’t faze him: I had one of the most thoughtful—and helpful—conversations ever as I was stuck behind the wheel that afternoon. I was going through a rough patch, and Charlie’s presence made a difference.

You can see some of his vivacity in this picture from a party at the home of my colleagues Jenn Habel and Chris Bachelder. It came out in smaller settings too, like the dinners Charlie and I had at a quiet pan-Asian restaurant in town, some with our current assistant editor, José Angel Araguz. Normally we take Elliston Poets to different restaurants in the evenings after their readings and talks, but Charlie plunged into the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese offerings at this one place and was ready to eat there more or less every night of his residency. Gusto seems the word for his appetite here, both for food and talk. And range. I can’t say we completely covered the menu during his visits, but we came close.

For Charlie, the menu of conversation was inexhaustible, and he approached it with sensitivity, intelligence, and exuberance—more or less the way he approached writing. He’s greatly missed.

Policy Changes

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Two of them. Sensible in nature (at least to us).

Smiling-TreeFirst, as of January 1, 2016, we will no longer consider hard-copy submissions. By that we mean submissions on paper, sent through snail mail. We get so few now, it’s easy to overlook them. We have to remind each other to glance at that teeny little sheaf of sheets on top of the filing cabinet. Interesting to recall that when the mag started over a decade ago, the office centerpiece was a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with stacks upon stacks—upon stacks upon stacks—of stories, essays, and packets of poetry. Such is progress. Submit electronically. Befriend a tree.

SixSecond, we are reducing the number of poems that can be submitted in a single batch to six. The limit was ten, but we realized we were the only mag in double digits, poem-wise. In an effort to keep things moving, and to encourage writers to shoot us their very best stuff, we’re making our new magic number six. Of course, we’ll grandfather in sets of poems that have already been submitted. As of October 1, however, if submissions contain more than six poems, we’ll read the first six and stop.

Thank you kindly.

Pantoum for the Rejected

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Nicola Mason: Threw this together in response to contributor Michael Robins’s wry Facebook post about summer rejection season. Sensitive subject for writers, and (I can attest) for editors too. In the next few weeks we will steadily work through the hundreds of submissions that built up during our reading period so we can start with a clean slate come fall and keep our response time from snowballing. Because summer is catch-up time for so many journals, writers who submit a lot often get inundated with rejections in a short span. It can be rough, but despite the seeming onslaught,  a “no” simply means your piece wasn’t right for a particular mag at a particular moment. We don’t enjoy rejecting work, but CR moves on, and hopefully so do all of you. In that spirit, I give you my (loose) Pantoum for the Rejected.

The term is over, the halls open.
I do not want to send you a rejection.
The grad staff is off for the summer,
scrabbling for work to make rent.

I do not want to send you a rejection.
The issue is nearly full, but unbalanced.
We like what you sent,
but we’re scrabbling for more creative nonfiction.

The issue is nearly full,
and still Submission Manager is a vasty deep.
We like what you sent
and wish for more pages, more funding.

Submission Manager is a vasty deep,
with life at different leagues.
I wish for more pages, more funding.
I do not want to send you a rejection.

Hat-Tipping Time

Friday, September 26th, 2014

It’s time for a post commending our small pool of trusted readers, who are in no small way responsible for buoying our literary vessel. These magnificent humans render thoughtful judgments on thousands of submissions each year. They have children to raise, medical conditions that require myriad unguents, rude neighbors who sneak out at night to pee on their lawns—and still they read on. Below are some examples of their considered critiques. Thank you, volunteers and satellite readers, for your generous service.

—I found a lot of things about the premise, character, and form surprising. This one felt fresh, though there were some areas where the language was a little clumsy, and the moment of change seems sudden. I think it could be expanded.

—The writing takes us right up to the point where the story should start. Then it ends.

—Strong, unexpected images. Unique voice. Deserves another read.

—This story is beautifully written; it also has much more of a sense of its own language & the power of that language than it does of the story’s moving parts. As an experiment, it’s engaging, even stirring; as a story, it’s somewhat less. The writer is clearly quite talented, though.

—The poet has the ability to move from outer space to a tight close-up in some of the poems, and when it works, it’s a pretty ride.

—I enjoyed the energy and imagination with which the poet approached her subject matter. There is a tension dug into in these lyrics that evokes what is learned and lost in growing up.

—Complex and moving. I love this one. Engages timely issues with deft handling. The description goes on for awhile, but it’s interesting how the dynamics shift as they go.

—This story is not terribly original, and the beginning and end aren’t quite right, but the writing is good throughout. Perhaps someone to watch?

—A pretty good story here. Quiet. Sensitively envisioned.

—An accomplished poet. Many of these didn’t grab me but were technically sophisticated. They are worth another read.

—Sketches of somewhat stereotypical characters. All in summary and description, no scenes. It doesn’t hold together as a cohesive whole.

Upon Spelling

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Nicola Mason: Last week, Michael (the fiction editor) looked up from his reading and asked, “What words do you see that are frequently misspelled?”

“Cemetery,” I said, “minuscule, seize, graffiti, mantel—the fireplace thing—as opposed to mantle—the cloak thing. What about you?”

“Discreet—the keep-it-to-yourself thing—as opposed to discrete—the singular-bits thing—Caribbean, liquefy, genealogy. What else?”

“People always use poured when they mean pored. And Cincinnati,” I said. “It’s surprising how often people stick an extra t in there.”

“Millennium,” he said, “sacrilegious, fluorescent.”

“Vocal cords,” I said, “with an h.”

“Yes!” he cried. “With an h.”

“Foreword,” I said.

“Epigraph,” he said. “Not epigram.”

“Not epigram.” I nodded. “Nyet.”

Michael rested his chin on his thumb. “How can we help the spelling challenged?”

“I’ve got it,” I replied. “We can quote Words into Type. On the blog. Everyone who’s anyone reads the blog.”

“Whose,” he said, “when they mean who’s. And vice versa.”

“Vice,” I said, “when they mean vise.”

“Such as this passage?” he inquired: “The writer who is a poor speller should work with a dictionary always at his side and should send out no manuscript, proposal, or outline without carefully checking doubtful words and proper names.”

“Indeed,” I said. “And this one: Words often misspelled should be memorized or written on a list for future reference.”

“Good one,” commended Michael.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m glad we had this very spontaneous talk about the building blocks of our wonderfully expressive language.”

“Ditto,” Michael replied, making a little gun with his index finger and thumb, then shooting it at me. “What do you say we get back to our reading?”

I nodded, leaning toward my computer screen and inhaling. “I love the smell of fresh submissions.”

Revising our Reading Period: August 15 to March 15

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Nicola Mason: It’s Trepidation Day here at the mag—the day we designated to make it known that we are (deep breath) shortening our reading period. We’ve gone back and forth. There’s been heated discussion. Fisticuffs, even. Okay, not fisticuffs, but brow furrowing and such. Definitely brow furrowing and one incipient case of TMJ. In other words, we don’t want to do it, but we have to do it. Weirdly, it’s to be fair to all the talented writers submitting—who are waiting longer and longer to hear from us because of the steadily climbing number of quality manuscripts we receive. Each day we get an email from an irritated, perhaps slightly more than irritated, writer whose work has been under consideration for, basically, ever. This most often means that one reader dug it and passed it on to someone else, who dug it and passed it on to someone else (repeat two more times), and it has reached the head eds, who must read it, and maybe even reread it, before deciding if it goes into the upcoming issue. Sad to say (reality rears its pattern-bald pate) we can publish less than 1%  of what we receive.

We most definitely don’t want to speed up the actual process of reading submissions. We don’t want to give anything short shrift. In fact, we rather pride ourselves on supporting that underserved set of writers, the emergers. We are excited, for example, to have discovered John William McConnell’s story “House of Wine,” forthcoming in our fall/winter issue. It’s his first publication, and it’s amazing. We are painfully aware, however, that we are not being kind to hold onto the work—for, basically, ever—of wonderful writers who are trying to take the lit world by the nape and give it a sharp shake. In other words, to be fair to those who submit, we have to restrict the number of submissions we receive. We realize this is something of a catch-22, and that there will be strong feelings and opinions about our long-considered and considerably fraught decision.

Of course, we would love for some beneficent donor to appear before us with a sack of crisp bills so we could a.) work full time, or b.) hire more kick-ass staffers. If you know such a person—if you ARE such a person—we’d be thrilled to hear from you. In the meantime, we are shortening our reading period—with regret—in the hope that we will be more speedily responsive in the future.

I leave you with this delightful passage from the story mentioned above. Thanks, John William McConnell, for sending your stuff our way.

John’s mind jump-started awake. Lilith asleep next to him, snoring. Dim bars of light leaned across the bedroom, beamed through the slats from a disco-ball moon. John immediately understood he would not be sleeping that night, only by the sobriety of his awakeness, its painful edge and the ache behind his eyes.

John frowzed upright and frowzed his brow; he frowzed, then frowzed his eyes and frowzily frowzed out of bed. He really wanted to utter an obscenity but had forgotten them all. He pulled on his pants and shuffled around shirtless in a world of gunmetal blue, and gray, and lurking blacknesses in the corners. Out of the bedroom. Through a blank hall. To a menagerie of couches and furniture that had borrowed from the night a glister of comatose hate. Fuck you, said the couches. On the table was a bottle of wine, number four, and praise the lord: still half full. He poured into a glass and raised it. There was very red lipstick on the rim. Lip, John thought. John glanced around. What the fuck was this? He just wanted to. Yeah, he was gonna do it. John pressed his mouth over the lipstick, her lipstick, cherryblood red. Drank the wine with his mouth precisely over the lipstick and enjoyed the lipid roundness of the stuff adhering to his mouth. The sticky fat. He held the glass and listened. Sometimes there was the shorelike sound of a car spinning around the cul-de-sac, lost in the suburbs, probably, and how the high beams arced like the flash of a lighthouse through the windows. Vase, picture, couch, plant. He drank again, smacked his mouth.